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Heritage Trail project

Jiuyan Lou Investigation

For a 69-year-old man, he hiked briskly up the face of the mountain side to the Nine Eye Tower (Jiuyan Lou) of the Jiankou portion of the Great Wall, barely breaking a sweat.  Along the way, he paused to point out unique trees and plants, and wild boar tracks.

Our guide, Meng Qiliang, grew up in Xizhazhi village, at the foot of the Huoyan Mountains.  Like other villagers, he grew up admiring the majestic beauty of the Great Wall.  In the distance I could see other sections of the Great Wall, such as the restored section of Mutianyu, falling and rising with the peaks and ridges of the mountain.

Unlike Mutianyu, however, the Jiankou section of the Great Wall remains “wild,” and untouched by development.  There are no cable cars to shuttle tourists, no toboggans to slide down, and no vendors to hawk “I climbed the Great Wall” T-shirts and overpriced paraphernalia.  “That’s the way we like it . . . and that’s why people come to see the Wall in a natural state of beauty,” said a villager as if it were a weathered sage that has, for the most part, stood the test of time.

“On the weekends,” Meng said, “this area is usually packed with people.” The Nine Eye Tower and the path leading directly to it was littered with colorful bits of wrappers, snack boxes, and empty plastic bottles, lasting remnants of previous weekend visitors and hikers.  Nearby, there were heaps of rock and rubble – collapsed portions of the Wall that had once led to the Nine Eye Tower.

The Nine Eye Tower, so called for the nine stone windows on each of the tower’s four faces, was an important watch post and junction or “knot” of three sections of the Great Wall.  Once a two-story tower, all that remains today is the lower floor of the tower built of stones and a small fraction of the forty-nine eyes that once encircled the tower post; gone is the wooden top floor of the tower, most likely eroded long ago by the elements.  Gone, as it would seem, is the tower’s structural integrity.

Despite maintenance and renovation work at the base of the tower in 2004 as well as the addition of a support column that was not a part of the original layout, the majority of the tower is still original brickwork.  Unfortunately, what remains is quickly dilapidating.  “Last year there was barely half a brick that was broken off.”  Meng pointed to a crumbled section of ceiling inside the tower with his hiking stick. “Last week, when I came by this was still intact.  Now look at all this, it’s all broken and crumbled!”

I felt uneasy from where I stood.  Bricks, broken off chunks of the ceiling and wall lay scattered along the ground, sunlight penetrating through the spaces where the bricks had once been.  Archways seemed to buckle ominously under the weight of the roof.  Even where the wall met the ceiling, the line seemed to dip and sink.  Despite basic renovation work a few years ago, and the addition of a support pillar not belonging to the original structure, I could understand both the draw of the tower and Meng’s concerns for its structural safety.

The tower’s structural problems and dilapidated state are due largely to the number of visitors that are received on weekends and particularly during peak seasons.  According to Meng Qiliang, on a busy weekend, dozens of visitors can be seen around the tower, in it, and on it.  He has witnessed three dozen to four dozen hikers on the roof of the tower at a time.   I noticed a haphazard, makeshift ladder of stacked bricks and rubble leading up to the roof.  It appeared unstable. Constructing such a ladder is illegal as stated in an order by the Beijing Municipal Government, but they are commonly seen at other Jiankou towers as well, and are equally risky to climb and unsound.

In 2002, the Great Wall was listed by the World Monuments Fund as one of the World’s 100 Most Endangered Sites.  Shortly after, the first laws protecting the Great Wall were enacted in 2003 by Beijing municipality authorities.  In 2006, a new national law was announced to protect the Great Wall from graffiti, removal of bricks, carving on bricks, and other damaging construction activities.  Enforcement of regulations, however, is lax and activities along the Wall, particularly in unrestored portions, are difficult to regulate.

Climbing wild portions of the wall, without regard for the laws protecting the Wall is also dangerous.  “Just imagine people both on top and below the tower.  What would happen if it were to collapse?”

The Nine Eye Tower’s structural problems are widely known by local villagers and officials, yet there is little action being taken.  For the most part, villagers and local government are concerned about the economic consequences of renovating the tower.  On one hand, the local government and many villagers enjoy the economic benefits that tourism has brought, with annually increasing numbers of visitors and hikers to the unrestored, wild portion of the Great Wall.  To generate income, a large number of villagers have converted their homes to nongjiale or rural bed and breakfasts where city dwellers can seek retreat in nature and in the mountains with a breathtaking view of the Wall.  On the other hand however, villagers fear that restoration of the Jiankou section of the Wall and of the Tower will merely replicate Badaling or Mutianyu, notoriously commoditized, restored sections of the Wall.

There are also fears that stricter regulation of the wild portions of the Wall and of the Nine Eye Tower would discourage adventure-seeking hikers and tourists that many villagers are coming to rely on for their livelihoods.

For Meng Qiliang, however, silence is not an option.  “Who would come anyway, if this tower were to collapse?” Rather, [name] sees the issue as a matter of protecting an important historical site and national treasure from slipping into ruin.  When posed the question, why he was so passionate for his cause, he thought carefully before answering, “It is because I am Chinese. I don’t want to see people get hurt and because I’m a good member of society.  It is my responsibility to do something for my country.”

Protecting the Great Wall as a national treasure, however, cannot be the responsibility of one man.  In fact, the most recent national legislation in 2006 charges every member of society including citizens, legal entities and organizations to protect the Wall and report illegal activities to the government.  Protecting the Great Wall for its historical significance, cultural importance, architecture and aesthetic beauty is everyone’s responsibility.  The more that is understood about the Great Wall and the threats that endanger it, the more collective action can be taken.

By CHP Intern Tina Yen

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